Sergios Lament - Whither the Putter


Weve been waiting ' oftentimes impatiently waiting ' a long time for Sergio Garcia to make it to the top.
Not a lot of people realize that Sergio was only 19 years old when he was leaping and running down the 16th fairway at the PGA Championship, a tournament where he finished second only to Tiger Woods. He had already won three times in Europe by that time, including one when he was just 17.
Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia ranked 196th on tour in putting average last year.
Not many people stop to realize that Sergio was still only 21 ' an age when most pros are still finishing their college careers ' when he won a couple of big U.S. tournaments in 2001, Colonial and the Buick Open. Or that he was just 22 when he won the Mercedes Championships, a tournament for the elite of the elite, confined to winners of the previous year.
But now he is just days short of his 26th birthday. He cant blame fuzzy-cheeked youth as the reason why he so often has risen spectacularly to the top of leaderboards, only to have a dramatic flameout. If he is going to be great ' no, if he is going to be just very good ' then this is the year that he needs to start showing something. Tiger, remember, had won 29 times when he was just 26.
Garcia is again at the Mercedes this week, compliments of his win at the Booz Allen Classic last year. In 2005 he made $3.2 million, 10th on the tour. Thats absolutely amazing, when you consider how atrocious a putter he was. Only five players among those ranked had a worse average than Garcias.
This putting thing is a relatively recent bugaboo in Sergios game. Would you believe that he was fourth on tour in putting in 2000? He was a very respectable 24th in 2001, still up there at 35th in 2002.
Then, the bottom fell out. He was 175th in 2003, 129th in 2004. And last year was the worst. He led the tour in greens hit ' No. 1. And he still managed to finish seventh in scoring average. But he might as well have putted with a mop handle, the way the ball skittered around its target so often.
His putting cost him at least two tournaments last season. The first was at the Wachovia, where Sergio went into a playoff with Vijay Singh and three-putted the first hole from 45 feet ' missing a 6-footer for par. The second was the British Open. Garcia hit almost 80 percent of the greens, but at the same time averaged almost two putts per green. Winner Woods averaged four strokes per round less per green when the stats of the two were matched side-by-side.
Garcia is not exactly incorrect when he analyzes his putting problems. You make the putts with your head, not with your hands, Sergio oh-so-correctly observed.
The fact that he made them once upon a time should be encouraging. He knows a good putter is inside there somewhere, just waiting to get out again. For the better part of his first four years, he just didnt miss. And in 2003 ' the year the putting went way south ' he underwent a full-swing change and began hitting greens much more often. But alas, the putting soured.
Since that time, Sergio has tried just about everything. Hes even endorsed a putting aid or two. And each time he thinks he has it figured out, this same old villain re-surfaces.
And, sure enough, this year he thinks maybe he has it figured out. He says he has watched tapes and discovered that at certain key moments ' pressure moments, he says ' he has constantly mis-hit the ball. Not off the toe, but off-center to the right side of the center of the clubface, he says.
And so, he has been working on striking the ball solidly each time, in the middle of the putterface. He takes two tees, places them in the ground, and just kind of swing it through it while I'm putting, make sure that I strike it in the middle. If I hit one of the tees, I know I'm not doing properly.
I feel like my stroke is a bit more consistent and I feel like my pace is going to improve with that. The more inconsistent you are by striking it - when you strike it well, it rolls a bit more; when you strike it a bit off the toe, it goes a bit softer.
He hits absolute lasers into the green, he drives it plenty long ' but the adventures often begin when he reaches the putting surface. IF he can finally solve those problems, and IF the rest of his game remains as sound as it was last year, he can wedge his way in amongst the top four or five in the game.
You know, I think that if you know what you're working on and you're confident about what you're working on, you know that's the right way to go, you don't need anything else, he says. 'Cause at the end of the day, it doesn't have to be a perfect stroke. But it has to be one that you trust and one that you feel good with it. You know, if you hit the ball in the middle of a club face, it doesn't matter what you do.
Email your thoughts to George White